Memorial Day Weekend marked another year of the annual Punk Rock Bowling Festival, where dispersed bar and club shows, hotel pool parties, poker tournaments, an actual bowling tournament — and one massive 3-day lineup of bands spanning eras and genres of punk — take over downtown Las Vegas.
This year’s headliners included Rancid, Descendents and The Specials, while the introduction of a second stage meant that from afternoon until night there was no gap in the music.
With the extended weekend in the rearview, we put these notes about this year’s music festival together while nursing our hangover:
Nearly 50 bands took the two stages over the three-day schedule (with another two dozen club shows, lounge shows and pool party shows aside from the main festival), meaning you could pack your weekend with almost solid music, or be forgiven if heading to one of the onsite lounge areas to take a break from it all.
While the late-May event tends to be scorching hot most years, this year happened to fall during a cool streak, making it comfortable to catch the afternoon bands. It even started raining just slightly during Descendents’ Sunday night headlining set.
The biggest pit of the weekend seemed like it was going to belong to Flag’s set of ex-members plowing through an essay-length set list of classic Black Flag songs, but when Refused played the intro to Slayer’s “Raining Blood” it looked as if the entire floor of the events center erupted.
Speaking of Refused, when the band the stage, the person next to me commented on how “those Swedes dress so slick.” Several songs in, vocalist Dennis Lyxzén took a minute to acknowledge how ridiculous America’s election of Donald Trump appeared to Europe before hopping the barricade and performing the next song from the center of the large circle pit. So it seems Sweden wins…
This year’s introduction of reusable cups for beer rather than the disposable plastic cups of previous years meant that the turf ground was nearly spotless and not covered in a slick layer of plastic one hour into the fest, and almost made one feel bad for how the cleaning crew seemingly had nothing to do this year.
In a mention of the video of NOFX’s comments last year about concert shootings in Vegas that was sold to TMZ before every other news source hopped on the bandwagon, The Vandals’ singer Dave Quackenbush joked that the audience had fucked up and that the band had to watch what they said, “Just don’t upload the video, guys!”
Damian Abraham, vocalist for Fucked Up, took a moment to acknowledge how weed can be bought 24 hours a day, and that he had run into Fletcher from Pennywise at the slots at 3 a.m. the previous night, and the two spent awhile talking about Black Flag, mentioning that these kind of encounters tend not to happen outside of Punk Rock Bowling.
The Adolescents altered their backdrop to simply say SOTO in their blue-album colored lettering, memorializing their founding member and longtime bass player Steve Soto, who died last Summer. Soto’s image also was displayed on a banner lining the festival grounds beside other instrumental scene members who have died recently. This especially was one of the thoughtful touches at the festival making it feel like more than just a concert.
Aside from the main pit in front of the stage, a smaller kid friendly side pit could often be spotted, giving parents the chance to playfully let their kids get in on the circle pit action.
A gallery displayed art by classic artists like Winston Smith, who made many of the Dead Kennedys’ album cover collages, as well as Monique Powell from Save Ferris and Warren Fitzgerald from The Vandals, who are also artists outside of their bands.
One of the merch vendors brought a ton of small promotional beach balls, which led one to notice that there is a funny quality when the area over the audience becomes shared real estate between crowd surfers with 18-inch mohawks and beach balls being playfully batted around by people dressed head to toe in black.
Lars Frederiksen wanted to bring out the one person who he said was there every day in the studio while the band recorded “…And Out Come The Wolves,” (noting that was the album that changed all of their lives) before bringing his mom out from the side of the stage. Rancid capped its headlining set by playing most songs from that record, with the songs echoing off of downtown Vegas casinos, audible for blocks.
Another epic year of Punk Rock Bowling in the books. Over time, the fest seems to get the details better and better, and the organizers have created an event that captures the positive side of the scene, with a lineup that continues to be awesome.
— Shaun Astor